Keep Chugging Along!

I only noticed today that using the new post feature from the main wordpress page apparently resulted in a new post being published everytime it decided to autosave my composition. Sorry for any confusion 3.4.2012.1808EST.

As if my day couldn’t get any better. So, over the past few weeks, all sorts of goodness has been happening to me. I change my diet and my strength keeps increasing. I regain my desire and motivation for my research work and now feel back on track to graduating not only this year, but within a few months (sometime this summer).

One issue has been finances. Still living on a student’s salary and my fellowship was due to run out in April. So that meant for the summer while finishing up my dissertation, unless I started working full-time in the area, I would be unpaid. And unfortunately things for me don’t readily lend themselves to saving for a rainy day. I could probably manage a month being unpaid. Two or three and it gets really hairy.

So, imagine my surprise and delight to find an email this afternoon from the fellowship organization saying that after reviewing things, they’ve decided to extend support for a few students, me included, for another 3 months. Not that big a deal, I won’t have tuition to pay during the summer. BUT, in addition to paying my stipend for May and June, they will also in the last paycheck thrown in stipend amounts to cover July and August!

You have no idea how much peace of mind this gives me. Instead of having to worry about how to supplement my income and cut down even more expenses so I could stretch things out while I finish with school, I am freed from actively worrying about that issue. I remember how three years ago dealing with financial concerns pretty much shut me down for several months. I had enough to deal with classes (still taking them at the time) but nothing in the tank for research or anything else in my life. My non-school related life and relationships really suffered.

Merry Christmas to All

Happy holidays to everyone!

Not that this is quite the time to review the year but looking back, time has gone by pretty quickly. It has been six months since I started this blog, though almost a year since I ended my last one. I’d planned on resuming earlier but a lack of motivation and other issues got in the way. Though my goal of daily updates seemed to quickly fall by the wayside. Yet the idea mill still runs and I think I have figured out a way to work out the daily blogging. . . in yet another blog. . . perhaps I should make one of those too – YAB. I also need to get around to populating some of my latest posts with pictures. . .

The make or break semester for school is coming up. I really feel that if I don’t finish this semester, I will have little motivation to really pursue things any further. So, over this holiday, I really need to buckle down and execute on my research work. The slow progress I’m making is crazy and disgusting. You’d think seeing everyone around me moving forward with their lives would be a strong enough stimulus. Not to mention that I’ve never truly returned to the lifestyle that my income warrants.

At least other parts of my life are showing some improvements. I’m back on low carb diet once again to lose fat. This time, I plan to incorporate significant exercise throughout most of the diet phase and then ramp back up to normal carb intake while maintaining exercise. This afternoon I ran through some calculations. There are many ways to reach my goals. The most direct is to lose 20lbs of pure fat while maintaining my lean muscle. The next involve losing close to the same amount of fat, but gaining more muscle mass. It is amazing, losing just 5lbs of fat gets me to the same body fat percentage as gaining 20lbs of muscle. Clearly, the easiest thing to do is lose the weight and as much fat as possible – this way, future muscle gains have a greater impact.

I’d initially planned on sticking to the diet until I dropped to 190lbs then transitioning off (I’m currently at 200lbs) but now I’m thinking of holding out till about 180lbs. I’ve also been doing a bit more reading because I realized that my primary goal isn’t to increase strength but the aesthetic look of my body. So my post diet workouts will start looking more like bodybuilding workouts than strength building. Though at the stage I’m in, perhaps they’re the same.

I really need to find a way to motivate myself next year. Like putting aside $2 each hour I work towards a new phone where I can only spend the money I earn on the phone. Or some other prize. But something. Then I can castigate myself later on how getting a new phone is about as interesting to me as getting a PhD at the moment.

Back to the Drawing Board

Well, this has been an interesting couple weeks.

So, things fizzled out with the friend of a friend that I’d been trying to date. I guess I should have expected this. The signs were all there. I call and she responds later via text. She doesn’t reschedule things or suggest alternatives when she’s busy and leaves them to me. Or maybe I did know, but still continued the ever optimistic guy thing of playing along. I think there is an argument to be made that men are either the most optimistic of the sexes, or we’re driven by sex a lot more than previously acknowledged. A few nights ago, I was having a conversation with someone about male and female friends and dating. I told her that there are two ways guys know that they’re in the friend zone. The first is when they ask a woman out and she turns them down, but they remain friends. The second  is when she discusses problems she’s having with a man that she’s dating or being intimate with him. I then remarked that while I know that women can tell they’re in the friend zone from the former scenario, I’m not sure if the latter exists – and we pretty much narrowed it down to that women don’t continue being friends with men who turn them down.

So all within the same week, my best (female) friend became single, I met an awesome woman (with whom I had the conversation just described), and I learned that my ex is moving (or has moved) back to Pittsburgh. The last item wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the fact that she’d given me the impression that she was just going to be here for a wedding and wanted to get coffee to “catch up”.

So aside from all that, I’m back to procrastination land when it comes to my research work. And now that I’m back dating full-time, I need money again, so I need to step up looking for a part-time job. I’m also now going back to eating low carb on my non strength workout days and forcing myself to actually go running on the non-strength days as well. This will be the first week of this new workout change, hopefully I can keep it up. I’ve been oscillating around 203lbs so far this month, but I think by October, I’ll be down to 200 and perhaps have my scale read sub 20% bodyfat. I know my scale is not accurate, but I hope that it is precise and that the accuracy issue is simply one due to not being able to “zero” the bodyfat measurement. (So, I hope that it always gives me something X higher than the actual percentage where X is a constant).

Once More Into the Breach

Well, it would appear that good fortune continues to smile upon me. Yesterday I was informed that I was offered a fellowship to which I’d applied during the summer but was initially not among the finalists. It does not pay as much as my current arrangement (which ends tomorrow), but it will pay more than the alternative (which would have come out to just barely being the minimum I need per month). This will still require some adjustments and I’m not discounting supplementing my income over the next semester, but at least if I do nothing crazy, I will not have to worry much financially.

I found a couple years ago that rough finances can be hugely distracting. Despite knowing that there is nothing you can do in the short term and that you just need to roll with the punches, it still is quite painful and takes attention away from other things. Downgrading one’s standard of living is a pretty tough task to accomplish. It has been almost four years since I last worked professionally full-time and yet I still don’t feel I’ve fully made the transition to living as I did (a poor graduate student) before I got my job. And given my desire to be done with school as soon as possible, I don’t think I ever will again.

Aside from academic news, this weekend saw me having an interesting set of conversations with a few friends. The three of us have spent time together before, though usually in the company of others. But for some reason, Saturday was the night that I feel we really connected more than we have in the past year or two. With all of us having and living different lives in different cities, catch up time is usually superficial and doesn’t get down into the depths of discussing what we’ve gone through, what makes the challenges at work really challenging, our relationships (or lack thereof). Aside from this, there have been a few other developments.  . . but those will wait as I see how things pan out. For now let’s just say that for the first time since my last relationship ended, I’m getting to know people with whom I feel more than a physical attraction.

Hmm. . .ok, so I’ve known I have a “type” for a long time now. And I’ve noticed, anecdotal yes, that people that I’ve known with very similar looks have tended to have similar personality traits. So now, here is the interesting question: Assuming that I’m right about my type and the similarity across people of very similar appearance, am I my own type’s type? Or is it that because I tend to be attracted to the same sort of women, I end up fulfilling my own hypothesis since some are bound to be attracted to me as well. To make this easier to understand – let us assume that I’m a blue fish and I tend to like pairing with red fish. I hypothesis that red fish thus tend to like pairing with blue fish. But perhaps since at least half of the fish I really pursue are red, I’m skewing the sample population of fish which respond to my attentions.

The Major Battle is Past

It is done, I have officially passed my thesis proposal exam. This was my second try (and honestly would have been my final one). What is interesting is that I think I learned more or reached a point of greater realization about this process this time around than I apparently did the first time. What have I found? Well, the thesis proposal (at least here) is really seen as a dry run for your dissertation defense. And accordingly, your thesis proposal needs to be quite detailed and bullet-proof. To be honest, mine was not. There are still a few things I need to specify in the document to my committee’s liking. In fact, it is to my benefit that I complete this process sooner than later if I want to graduate at all. Why? Because this becomes a contract between me and the committee. They are essentially committed to allowing me to graduate once I demonstrate and defend that I have accomplish everything that I have specified I would in the proposal document. So the sooner I tighten up any loopholes in terms of exactly what I’m doing and what I will deliver, the better.

I am a bit unsettled that I’m learning this now. My cohorts and I have a different view of what a proposal document encompasses than is required here. Part of the problem is that we’re not really friends with anyone who has completed this process. I’m the first of our group (our adviser is relatively new, the last student of his who graduated with a PhD did so the year before I joined the group and other former students decided to leave with just the Masters and work fulltime). So, I definitely will impress upon them the seriousness of this process and the need to be very specific about what one’s contribution is to engineering beyond applicability to your specific project.

In a way, this actually improves my view of the PhD program here at Pitt. Quite frankly, we were starting to get the idea that it was not as rigorous as Pitt’s ranking would make it appear. But it turns out the reason for this is that your proposal exam is held up as quite the serious benchmark of achievement and readiness for original research and the work leading up to it – while important, doesn’t have quite that regard. I’d always just seen the proposal exam as a stepping stone – outline my intended plan, and move on with the real work to be done in the preparation of my dissertation. Instead the major battle is here, with the assumption that if you make it through and actually accomplish everything to the committee’s satisfaction, the dissertation defense is more of the formality as a check on whether it is you who did the work and not your adviser(s).

So, how can I learn from my ignorance and mistakes going forward? Well, one issue in preparing for this was a  lack of guidance on what the committee really wanted to see in the proposal the first time around. Our graduate student coordinator has copies of submitted proposals (though there is no way to immediately know which were immediately successful) but doesn’t loan them out – what she has is the only “physical” copy. Technically, we must email her copies now, but who knows how long that has been going on. In any case, the only examples that were available to me were those of current students of my advisers who’d happened to complete their exams before I did. So I turned to the internet for reading and there is a wide variety of time. Based on surveying the internet, one would conclude that if you’re not in engineering, a proposal is anywhere from a 5 – 15 page document and if in engineering, 15 – 50 page document. However, of the engineering ones, most of the bulk in those pages seemed dedicated to background material. There were few that seemed to really need a lot of space to explain the work  to be done and it’s methodology.

So, given how detailed our proposals must be, it implies that our dissertations will largely be proposal document + further background, more in depth introduction and motivation, and complete details on methodology, defense of approach covering stability and convergence issues, and other details. And here, I should get a better idea on how to express my intended contributions to Electrical Engineering and how that separate from the work on my specific project. Luckily, while proposal documents are not “officially” archived, dissertations should be and thus should be much easier for me to access electronically.

Let the Sunshine In

So, after being sick for most of last week and having my second thesis proposal exam coming up, I was very stressed out this weekend. I’d anticipated being able to work on my proposal document for most of last week, but being sick robbed me of any energy or motivation to do work. That and my general worry about the whole thing led to my nearly having a panic attack.

I’ve had a few of those over the years. They are different from being in a state of abject depression. In that state, you are aware of how you feel. Pessimistic and down sure, but life still goes on, you just don’t want to actually do anything. In a panic attack, you are frozen. Unable to actually think or process new data. Tasks you were able to do become impossible. Problems you could solve or begin to solve seem meaningless. Unfortunately, while I’ve been able to eventually motivate myself to work through depression, there is no working through a panic attack. At best, you eventually figure out that you’re having one, and not just stupid – which depressed you will accept as fact, and then start taking action to exit the attack.

Anyway, so after a grueling weekend of work, I’ve found that I’ve made pretty good progress. Coupled with a meeting today with my adviser where we not only ironed out some of the final details and strategy for my proposal exam, but actually cracked an issue that I’d been trying to solve three weeks ago with my research and things are looking much brighter indeed.

Though one upside of being sick – I got down to 202.8lbs over the weekend. Perhaps I’ll make 200lbs by the end of the month.

My Vaio is Here!

I haven’t posted in a while. Don’t really have a good reason. I suppose I’ve been a bit more busy, but that’s little excuse. Yesterday, my new laptop arrived. I’ve posted a mini-review on one of my other blogs (http://weethomas.wordpress.com) which I’ve decided to start using primary for tech related stuff. Not that I won’t bring it up here from time to time, but that isn’t the main thrust here.

Regarding my workout/diet plan, my focus has shifted to a mixture of strength training and cardio. I was doing some reading on calculating body fat (I wanted alternative methods to my scale’s bio-impedance analysis) and found that unless 100% of the weight I’d lost between now and my goal was fat, I’d still not be at the bodyfat percentage that I want. What I would be is a smaller guy, having lost some fat but also muscle and other mass. Anyway, I’ve found that my best bet may be an exchange of muscle for fat. The strength training and cardio will help ensure that most of the net weight I lose is fat or I replace fat weight for muscle. Either way, my real target – decreasing my bodyfat percentage will be achieved. Losing weight was just how I’d initially expected to accomplish this.

Schoolwise, I need to get on the ball. I’m in the process of scheduling my proposal exam and augmenting my existing proposal document. I think if I can double the size, I will allay the fears of everyone who made their decision based on its heft. Still, this requires actually sitting down and working, though now that I have a laptop, I think this is more likely. While I feel fine coding and running simulations on my desktop in the lab, I’m still very much a person who likes working on his own machine. Despite my insistence that I’m trying to move away from bringing work home. If that was the case, I could have saved $1000 and bought a cheaper, not so powerful, and perhaps .25lbs heavier laptop.